Balkan Strategic Studies

December 31, 1992

For Serbians, Fears of a German Axis Rise For The Third Time This Century

Serbs can cite strong feelings and many reasons for their concern over Germany's support for Croatia's new war against them. Associate Publisher T. W. Carr looks at the historical patterns which led to the current Balkan conflict.

By T. W. Carr, Associate Publisher. Serbs have had to fight for survival as a people in every major European conflict this Century, from the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, through World War II, and again today. Significantly, the Serbs never began any of the conflicts, and in all of them, Serbian sentiment notes, their enemies always included a German, Croat and Vatican axis.

On each occasion conflict erupted during a period of German expansion, irrespective of whether policy was implemented by military, political or economic means.

Ante Pavelic, the extreme right wing nationalist who later became Croatia's first Fuhrer, stated in 1927 "How can Croatia -- full of western culture, Latin and German culture, Italian humanistic culture and German romanticism -- co-exist with the Orthodox, rough, savage and ruthless Serbs?"

Less than two years later he left Yugoslavia for Italy where he soon established his "Ustasha: the Croatian Revolutionary Organisation". It set up training camps and ran a campaign of terror and assassinations, including the murder of Yugoslavia's King Aleksandar during a visit to France. Ante Pavelic was tried and convicted in absence for Aleksandar's murder, yet Italy continued providing a safe haven for him and his Ustashi. When Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933, Pavelic adopted the nazi racial policies which accorded with his views aired in 1927.

For 20 months after the outbreak of World War II, Yugoslavia walked a tightrope and stayed neutral until the Cvetkovic-Macek Government joined the Tripartite Pact on March 25, 1941.

Two days later, the Serbian General, Dusan Simovic, aided by British intelligence, headed a popular revolt against the Government's action.

Hitler reacted by diverting massive forces from the Eastern Front to attack Belgrade on April 6, using 450 bombers in a dawn raid. There were 51 divisions of Axis forces, supported by 2,170 combat aircraft, in the attack on Yugoslavia.

On April 10, the 14th Panzer division rolled into Zagreb enthusiastically welcomed by Croatians. Within hours, working to a well-prepared plan, Dr Edmund Vesenmager (Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop's envoy from Berlin) proclamed on Zagreb radio the formation of the Independent State of Croatia (ISC) under Poglavnik (leader) Ante Pavelic.

Seven days later the Axis forces controlled all Yugoslavia, and, in the punitive carve-up, Hitler and Italian leader Benito Mussolini created the ISC proper, allocating to it Croatia, Slavonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srem and part of Dalmatia (the territory claimed today by Croatia).

In the meantime, only 36 hours after the panzers had arrived, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Azgreb, Alojzije Stepinac, endorsed the proclamation on behalf of the Church. Within a few days he issued an instruction to the Catholic clergy, ". . . to work with dedication for the fostering and promotion of the new Independent State of Croatia". Pope Pious XII then appointed Archbishop Stepinac as Senior Military Chaplain. A Catholic priest was subsequently assigned to serve with every Ustashi military unit.

On taking office, the Poglavnik stated: "It is the duty of the Ustashi movement to ensure that the ISC is ruled always and everywhere only by Croatians, so that they are the sole master of all the real and spiritual good in their own land. Within Croatia there can be no compromise between the Croatian people and others who are not pure Croats; Ustashi must extinguish all trace of such people."

The campaign of ethnic cleansing had begun earlier, less than three weeks after Hilter's creation of Croatia. It commenced with the slaughter of prominent Serbs and leaders of the Orthodox Church. On May 5, 1941, the Bishop of Banja Luka, together with archpriests from Bosanska Gradiska and Dusan Subotic, were tortured in an attempted conversion. When this failed, all were murdered in cold blood. A similar fate was dealt to the Metropolitan of Dabar-Bosnia, Petar Zimonic, and to Sava Trlaic, the Bishop of Gomji Karlovac.

More than 200 Orthodox priests were slaughtered in rapid succession following the murder of the Metropolitan of Zagreb, Dositej Vasic. On August 24, 1941, Zagreb issued administrative orders concerning the arrest of the remaining Orthodox priests and monks. Perhaps the most significant example of state and church collaboration in thnic cleansing was Friar Miroslav Filipovic. This Catholic priest doubled as the commander for four months of Jasenovac, Europe's largest concentration camp located on along the banks of the river Sava. [See story, page seven.]
1945: Escaping Europe

The genocide continued unabated throughout the war. Serbs, Jews and Gypsies were murdered with mediaeval ferocity. More than a million Serbs of all ages were butchered in their homes, in forests and in concentration camps. Another 250,000 were forcefully converted to Catholicism, and a further 300,000 or so were driven out of Croatia into the remote mountain areas of Serbia.

But as the war drew to a close in Europe, communist partisan leader Josip Broz "Tito" took control of Yugoslavia. Under cover of darkness, Ante Pavelic fled across the Austrian border into the British Zone, at that time under the control of Field Marshal Alexander. Europe was awash with refugees, more than 18-million, most of whom were displaced persons, but hiding amongst them were thousands of war criminals.

Tito wanted Pavelic, and in July 1945 he informed the British that Pavelic was hiding in their zone. The British replied stating "every effort is being made to find him". Tito responded month after month with specific allegations as to Pavelic's shifting hiding places: villas, monasteries. Irritated, the British Foreign Office rebutted Tito's allegations: "The allegations are ungracious and unfounded. At no time has Pavelic been in British custody, or his whereabouts known to the British authorities."

An internal Foreign Office memo was circulated indicating that "it is becoming increasingly clear that quislings are finding refuge under the wing of the church".

This was probably the outcome of an intelligence report on the activities of Father Traganavic, a Croatian Roman Catholic priest who held high office in the Ustashi Government. He was, although classified as a war criminal, permitted by the Allies to tour European refugee camps throughout the second half of 1945 and during 1946. Ostensibly his task was to render religious ministry to refugees, but in fact he was making covert contact with thousands of Ustashi hiding within the ranks of true refugees. He arranged for new Red Cross identity cards to be issued, and at the same time organised a political intelligence network to help Ustashi and other war criminals. US intelligence codenamed the network and its escape routes "ratlines".

In December 1946, an intelligence report from Austria admitted that Pavelic had been hiding in the British Zone, but had escaped with colleagues dressed as priests to Milan during May 1946. From Milan, using false identity cards, they had travelled south to the Vatican. Pavelic used a Spanish passport in the name "Don Pedro Gona". Gaining Red Cross identity cards was easy for Traganavic. Two validating authorities per country were appointed by the International Red Cross. In the case of Italy, one was the Vatican Refugee Committee.

The Vatican Refugee Committee was in fact the Brotherhood of San Geronimo, the Croatian Collegiate within the Vatican. Father Traganavic was the Secretary of the Brotherhood, and he was also the Croatian National Representative of the Red Cross. This was a strange double appointment for a man branded a war criminal by Tito's Government. A former Croatian Ustashi diplomat, Evor Omrechanan, based in Rome, is on record saying he had no problem in obtaining an identity card for Pavelic from the Vatican to enable him to make the journey from Milan to Rome.

By January 1947, the US Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) knew that Pavelic was being sheltered at the Vatican. A special agent called Gower infiltrated the San Geronomo Brotherhood and discovered that this Vatican Collegiate was doing much more than just harbouring Pavelic. Within its walls was a complete Ustashi unit where naxi salutes were given.

On April 11, 1947, the US CIC planned to capture Pavelic from a Vatican library or while en route in a Vatican car. However, Pavelic stayed one step ahead of CIC, thanks to a double agent planted in the CIC by Father Traganavic.

In July, the CIS again ordered that Pavelic was to be taken. One week later the operational order was countermanded, across it was a handwritten instruction "hands off".

Within days Pavelic had a Hungarian passport under the name of Pablo Eranias and a visa for Argentina. In Genoa, another priest, Father Fichanico, arranged a berth for Pavelic to sail to security adviser to Argentine President Juan Peron who subsequently gave visas to 35,000 Ustashi escaping from Europe thanks to the "ratlines" intelligence network organised by Father Traganavic and the Brotherhood of San Geronimo.

The first convention of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) on February 26, 1990, in Zagreb marked the rebirth of the Ustasha and the rehabilitation of the Independent State of Croatia. All the killing and ethnic cleansing policy implementation flowed from that day in a re-run of the events of 50 years before.

On May 30, 1990, the HDZ was elected to power in the Sobor (parliament) and Dr Franjo Tudjman became President of the Republic. At an open air rally in Jelacic Square, the Archbishop Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, blessed a baby's cradle to symbolise the re-birth of the ISC.

On December 22, 1990, the Sabor proclaimed the independence of Croatia and summarily adopted a new constitution under which Serbs lost their nation status, regulated to a national minority.

The HDZ took a series of steps during 1990 to purify Coratia by eradicating the Serbian identity. The cyrillic script was banned, Croatian became the only official language, Serbian associations were abolished, literature was cleansed of Serbian authors and Serbs were not permitted to operate their own TV and radio programmes. On another front, Serbs lost their jobs in the police and security organs as well as in Government posts.

As the same time, World War II history was re-written and street names changed to glorify Ustashi by eliminating any trace of the genocide. T-shirts showing Ustashi symbols such as the infamous Black Legion went on sale to young Croatians.

Arms and defence equipment flowed into Croatia directly and indirectly from Germany. Mass arming of HDZ members took place, the police force was expanded and the National Guard was re-equipped as an Ustashi army. May 28, 1991, saw a nazi style rally of the "Croatian Armed Forces" at Zagreb football stadium.

Then the killing of individual Serbs started. Memories of 1941 stirred and the exodus began. The day after the rally, Serbs from Borovo Selo fled from Croatia. The killings, which started early in April 1991 at Plitvice, escalated during July, August and September. At Vukovar, Serbs were subjected to torture, rape, and murder for many months before the conflict was presented to the world as brutal aggression by the Yugoslav Army against peace-loving Croations. The murders are documented and proven.

Around 5,000 Serbs were rounded up and held in the Borovo footware factory complex at Vukovar. From this Croatian concentration camp hundreds of Serb men, women and children were taken out and slaughtered. Mutilated bodies thrown into the river were carried downstream into Serbian territory. These were recovered, photographed and their identities painstakingly discovered.

October 1991 saw the arrest of 20 Orthodox priests, including his Holiness Lukijan, Bishop of Slavonia, yet another replay of 1941 actions.

Having arrested their Bishop, Croatian authorities during November expelled some 25,000 Serbs from Western Slavonija. At the same time (October 29) the inhabitants of 24 Serbian villages were ordered to vacate their homes within 48 hours by the Croatian authorities in Slavonska Pozega. Seventeen of the Serbian villages were razed in Croatian ethnic cleansing operations which drove another 10,000 Serbs into Bosnia.

No less than 189 villages in nine communes south of the River Drava were completely cleansed of Serbs during 1991 and early 1992.

Church destruction went hand in glove with the arrest of Orthodox priests and the expulsion of Serbs from Croatia. By the end of October 1991 alone, more than 70 churches were completely destroyed or severely damaged. [More than 300 have now been destroyed in the current fighting.] On September 28, Croatian paramilitary forces demolished the Baroque complex of the Pakrac Bishops built in 1732. They set fire to the seminary, and in the cathedral thy burnt icons and the bishops' library containing almost 6,000 books, many of historical importance. Fifty of the books dated back to the 18th Century and included a unique copy of a Sabornik, printed in Venice circa 1536.

As in 1941, it was Germany and the Vatican which brought Croatia to life, the second time by prematurely recognising Croatia as an independent state with the right to cede from Yugoslavia.

Both authorities pushed members of the EC and the international community into recognising Croatia. At the same time, both manipulated the mass media, presenting the Serbs as leftover communists trying to subvert the pro-Western democracies of Croatia and Slovenia.

Serbian officials tried to tell the EC and other members of the international community what Germany was doing in Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe.

Plans to build a superhighway in the north from Hamburg to St Petersburgh are aimed at giving Germany domination of the Baltic. A similar highway planned to link Budapest with Trieste and Rijeka via Zagreb is perceived to provide the infrastructure that gives the projected German economic "empire" access to the Mediterranean.

German law preventing foreign military action helped Germany stay out of the costly military operations of the Gulf War. The same will be true of any conflict in Yugoslavia and the Balkans. So the Balkans conflict costs Germany virtually nothing, while it drains the US and UK economies.

Serbs report that Germany is actively lobbying some 40 countries in Africa and the Middle East to support a forthcoming German bid to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

As far as the Serbs and Yugoslavs are concerned, the German Government started the present conflicts in Yugoslavia and has used its influence and media channels to help distort the truth and prevent a workable form of peace coming about. There is much evidence to support the Yugoslav point of view.